Members of the Republican Guards stand in line at a barricade blocking protesters supporting deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi (pictured in poster) near a Republican Guards headquarters in Cairo, July 9, 2013. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)
The family and friends of two Canadians detained in Egypt did not receive the news they have been waiting for—or any news—when an Egyptian prosecutor failed to appear on Thursday for a scheduled hearing.
Award-winning filmmaker John Greyson and emergency room physician Tarek Loubani have been detained in Tora prison, near Cairo, since August 16. The two landed in Cairo on August 15 with the intention of visiting Gaza’s largest medical complex, Al-Shifa hospital, where Loubani was to continue medical work and Greyson was to explore the possibility of a new film project. Upon their arrival, the men were unable to make the trip into Gaza because the Egyptian government had closed the Rafah crossing the previous Monday, citing security reasons. (Rafah is Gaza’s only access point to the rest of the world, other than the tightly controlled borders with Israel).
The pair decided to stay in Cairo and await the border’s reopening. The following night, the men apparently became lost after curfew and stopped at a police station to ask for directions to their hotel. At around 10 pm Cairo time, Justin Podur, their emergency contact, received a ten-second phone call from Loubani: “We’re being arrested. It’s the Egyptian police. Call the Consulate. I have to go.”
Nearly forty-eight hours passed before family and friends knew they were okay; the Canadian consulate determined their whereabouts and managed to visit them at Tora prison on Sunday, August 18. A hearing with an Egyptian prosecutor was announced in the next few days. The two possible outcomes of this much-anticipated hearing: an extended detention period of a further fifteen days, or their release. “It’s not obvious to me if [the delay] makes either one of those possibilities less or more likely when the eventual appearance with the prosecutor happens,” Podur remarked, expressing disappointment with the delay and telling The Nation that receiving no news “fall[s] right in between the worst and better outcomes.”
The exact circumstances of Greyson and Loubani’s arrest remain unclear. Ramses Square, the site of Azbkya police station where they were arrested, was at the center of violent clashes between anti-military pro-Morsi supporters and government security forces on that day. Some eighty people were killed August 16, mostly in Cairo, during one of the bloodiest days Egypt has seen since the Arab Spring.
Adam El Shalakany, one of their lawyers, says Loubani and Greyson have been accused of a “general bundle of crimes that everyone else detained that day [in Azbkya district] was accused of.” This includes at least 385 other people, including four Irish nationals, two Syrians and one Turkish national, who were arrested in Ramses Square’s Al-Fateh mosque, according to Egypt’s interior ministry. The entire group of arrestees, including Loubani and Greyson, are being accused of the following crimes: belonging to an armed gang; possession of weapons; threatening security and social peace; inciting violence; disabling public transport and communications. Though they cannot be charged with such a count, the prosecutor has insinuated that the accused were involved with the Muslim Brotherhood.